Over the July 4th weekend the Washington Post published my review of musicologist Mark Clague’s new book, O Say Can You Hear?: A Cultural Biography of The Star Spangled Banner, a book that explores our controversial national anthem, the circumstances of its creation, and the biography of its creator, slaveholder Francis Scott Key. As you’ll read in the review, Clague comes down on the side of The Star Spangled Banner and is something of an apologist for Key himself, who had an ambiguous stance on slavery. I take a dimmer view of both subjects, but Clague’s arguments are well presented and readers can decide where they come down on the issue.
Clague notes that Key never intended to write a national anthem as he watched the shelling of Baltimore’s defenses from the deck of a ship. But the song nonetheless burrowed itself “deep within the collective American psyche” in a way no other song has. “Reinforced by more than two centuries of use, the sheer weight of this cultural legacy is the song’s most powerful asset,” he writes.
For more, please read the review, which appeared in Sunday’s Outlook section.
My most recent review for the Post was of Alex von Tunzelmann’s thoughtful and fast-paced new book on statue toppling, Fallen Idols: Twelve Statues That Made History last November.